Thom Mayne, FAIA

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Thom Mayne, FAIA | 2013 AIA Gold Medalist

By Zach Mortice, Managing Editor, AIArchitect

The American Institute of Architects Board of Directors awarded the AIA Gold Medal to Thom Mayne, FAIA, an architect who has always valued the open-ended creative process over stylistic standbys, and who has risen to prominence and esteem by completing a series of ambitious government and institutional projects. The Gold Medal is the highest honor the AIA confers on an architect. It acknowledges an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.

AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA, notified Mayne by telephone after the Board made its decision. “That’ll put me in a good mood!” said Mayne. “I’m so pleased.”

Mayne will receive his Gold Medal on March 20, at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre, during the 2013 AIA Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference. He will also be honored at the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver in June.

The proof is in the process

Mayne’s commitment to architecture as a journey and not as a destination is evidenced through the forms and materials of his buildings, his personal and professional life, and the name of the firm he established in Los Angeles in 1972—Morphosis, which means “to be in formation.” In his own life, he’s evolved from a rugged iconoclast to a collaborative government-works mainstay.

An unexpected champion of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) Design Excellence program, Mayne’s palette of bold angular forms, exposed structural elements, and double-skin veils that play on notions of dynamic transparency have become trendsetting motifs in a growing number of governmental and institutional projects. Furthermore, his commitment to egalitarian lo-fi materials and sustainable practices, and his prescient awareness of how social interaction shapes users’ lives, all illustrate his commitment to architecture as a socially progressive art.

In 2009, Mayne was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2009 was the recipient of the Centennial Medal of the American Academy in Rome.

Examples of his work include:

Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif., which places students in the middle of a dramatically pitched canyon of concrete and corrugated metal.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 Headquarters in Los Angeles, whose materiality and structural elements allude to the freeway, while its kinetic architecture and façade refers to the automobile.

Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse in Eugene, Ore., whose steel-ribbon façade reflects the fluidity of the American justice system.

The San Francisco Federal Building, a slender 18-story tower with a dual façade of glass and a folded and perforated metal skin that is graceful, yet powerful.

41 Cooper Square in New York City, a Cooper Union art, architecture, and engineering classroom and laboratory building that inspires interdisciplinary collaboration with a central vertical piazza.

Giant Group Campus in Shanghai, an experientially fantastic corporate headquarters complex that fuses landscape and architecture with a kaleidoscopic mix of live-work-play programs.

To the victor go the spoils

Mayne has avoided being stylistically pigeonholed by always defining himself as an architect who is more engaged by the process of design than by the results. Certainly his works share common features, but their most binding signifier is a celebration of the fractious and dynamic nature of the creative process. Mayne is honest enough to admit that the struggle of ideas in the architect’s mind can create warring angles and chaotic forms so vibrant as to seem almost unfinished, but still solidifying. The winners of this clash emerge battered, bruised, and refined by conflict, stronger and more self-assured than architecture that drifts into place undisturbed. Very often this approach encompasses raw innovation, like his San Francisco Federal Building, which forgoes air conditioning in favor of year-round natural ventilation. “We arrive at a work that is like life: complex and imperfect, messy, and, in the best of cases,” wrote Mayne in his firm’s monograph, Morphosis Buildings and Projects Vol. V: 1999–2008, “possessing a feeling of inevitability.”

“He is one of the few architects able to head a large-scale, successful practice while influentially designing theoretical premises,” wrote AIA Gold Medal recipient Antoine Predock, FAIA, in a letter of recommendation. “The result has been a 30-year body of work that is intellectually rigorous and consistently searching.”

“I want to assert my sincere belief that the most compelling reason to make this appointment is that in doing so, it will be honoring a truly authentic voice and life in the history of architecture,” wrote Mack Scogin, FAIA, of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. “Thom has through time and rigorous pursuits evolved an architecture of experiential and environmental responsibility without compromising any of his intellectual, creative and humanistic principles. His at once raw and refined originality is at times so direct and honest that it is painfully inescapable, yet undeniably endearing and invigorating.”

The resolve to mentor

In the same year he formed Morphosis, Mayne and several colleagues founded the Southern California Institute of Architects, or SCI-Arc. Since then, Mayne’s long record of academic involvement has helped spread his enthusiasm for experimentally pushing architecture’s role in society further into the cultural forefront.

When he was much closer to his students’ ages, Mayne and Morphosis partner Michael Rotondi, FAIA, visited AIA Gold Medalist Frank Gehry’s house in Santa Monica, Calif. There they saw an ad hoc collection of workmanlike materials formed into an internal logic all their own—a motif that would eventually emerge into Mayne’s own work.

“We just stood and stared at it,“ Rotondi told The New York Times Sunday Magazine. “The fact that Frank was being attacked gave us a sense that he was doing something right.” Over his career, Mayne has suffered some of the same slings and arrows, yet he’s grown into a mature, civic-minded architect whose body of work stands at the intersection of intellectually honest functionalism and progressive design.

Go to the Dec. 6, 2012 issue of AIArchitect
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Photo Credit

  • Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif. Image courtesy of Timothy Hursley.
  • The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 Headquarters in Los Angeles. Image courtesy of Roland Halbe.
  • 41 Cooper Square at the Cooper Union in New York City. Image courtesy of Iwan Baan.
  • The San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco. Image courtesy of Steve Proehl.
  • The University of Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center in Cincinnati. Images courtesy of Roland Halbe.

Thom Mayne, FAIA


(Photo credits at bottom of page)

Mayne is the 69th AIA Gold Medalist. He joins the ranks of such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson (1993), Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Louis Sullivan (1944), Le Corbusier (1961), Louis Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), Santiago Calatrava (2005), Renzo Piano (2008), Peter Bohlin (2010), and Steven Holl (2012).

In recognition of his legacy to architecture, his name will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Mayne’s selected awards include:

  • AIA/COTE Top 10 Green Projects for the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse (2007)
  • The Pritzker Prize (2005)
  • 2 RIBA International Awards
  • 10 GSA Design Excellence Awards for the San Francisco Federal Building, NOAA Satellite Operations Facility, and the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse
  • National AIA Honor Award for the Netherland Architecture Institute exhibit “Silent Collisions: Morphosis Retrospective” (2004)
  • National AIA Honor Award for Diamond Ranch High School (2003)
  • National AIA Honor Award for the Hypo Alpe-Adria Center (2003)
  • National AIA Honor Award for 41 Cooper Square (2012)
  • Numerous State and Local AIA Awards

    More about Thom Mayne, FAIA

2013 Gold Medal and Architecture Firm Award Advisory Jury

  • Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, Chair
  • Richter Architects
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA
  • Foster + Partners
  • London, England
  • Marlene S. Imirzian, AIA
  • Marlene Imirzian & Associates, LLC
  • Phoenix
  • Beverly J. Prior, FAIA
  • HMC + Beverly Prior Architects
  • San Francisco
  • William D. Sturm, AIA
  • Serena Sturm Architects
  • Chicago
  • Carole C. Wedge, FAIA
  • Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott
  • Boston
  • David G. Woodcock, FAIA
  • College Station, Texas
  • David Zach
  • David Zach, Futurist
  • Milwaukee

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